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Comic Culture: The Single vs. Trade Debate

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Singles versus trades. This is a question that has been plaguing comic readers for a long time. In the “hey day” of comics there was no question that singles were the way to read books, mainly because trades hadn’t really made an impact yet. Now, it seems like sales charts are beginning to tip, little by little, towards the trade format and publishers are beginning to notice this. Ever heard of the phrase “writing for the trade?” That’s where this specific mindset comes into play. Monthly books these days are patterned off of 5, 6, 7+ issue arcs that encompass a trade. Because of this, it is becoming harder and harder to find good done-in-one stories (especially in the “Big Two” books). If you go into a comic shop these days, or even a bookstore like Barnes and Noble the graphic novel section appears to be getting bigger and bigger. Is there any correlation to this phenomena? Are more people choosing to go the trade route, or are there just that many more books being put out? I would like to believe that it’s a combination of these reasons, but for this post I would like to investigate a different point altogether. What I would really like to know is whether or not there truly is a better way to read these books (singles versus trades)? Or, is it all in the eye of the beholder?

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Single issues take less time to read, but can also take up a lot of space (because of short/long boxes) and can end up costing more in the long run.

Prior to my comixology days I was a single reader through and through. I went to the comic shop and purchased my books week in and week out. Everything was moving along just fine, until I found myself adding more and more books to my monthly haul. I tried my best to keep up, but once my pull was beginning to become too much for me to handle, I knew I needed to reevaluate. Trying to read “x” amount of books every month to keep on track before new books would come out simply became a chore for me. This is when I investigated becoming a trade waiter and slowly realized that this was probably the better route for me. While I enjoy reading singles issues (and I still do today on a handful of series), for the most part, I really prefer having the trade to be able to read at my own pace, and also to have the full story arc all in one go. There’s no waiting for the next issue because it’s all in one nice little package for you. Granted with monthly series, if you go the trade route, there are going to be multiple volumes that come out, so while you won’t be waiting for the next single issue you will at some point be waiting for the next trade. That is unless you decide to buy the whole series when it’s all said and done, and some people will do this too. But as I alluded to before, there is a definitive “end” to a story arc/trade, while single issues most often do not have this. And, sometimes it may feel like the decision is out of your hands based on the creative team on the book you are reading.

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The size and format of tpbs vary, and you have to wait longer for their release, but they look great on display (as seen here).

Writers like Jonathan Hickman are considered grand architects and their stories 95% of the time are better read in trades. Their stories are complex and there are many overarching elements that all come to fruition in the final run of their stories. Some people get frustrated reading their work on a monthly basis because they feel like the story isn’t going anywhere, and that they are also missing a lot of plot points. This can be true because of the nature of the long-form narrative and the slow burn they are reading. On the other hand, writers like Brian K. Vaughan are masters at writing single issues that lead right into the next issue. These type of writers are perfect for singles because there feels like a natural progression from issue to issue that works beautifully. But, don’t take this as a rule that one writer’s work falls too simply into one category. Some writers’ “Big Two” work may be best read in trade, while their creator-owned work may be best read in singles. Or vice versa. The point I am trying to get at here is that it is really a case by case basis. Certain books and writers strengths will usually play to one format, as well as readers preferences. Our perceptions are all different and unique, just like the books we read.

So, now that you’ve hopefully made it to this point I would like to know what you prefer. Do you prefer reading your comics in singles or trades? Or is it a combination of both like me? There really is no right answer to this question because in the end we are all supporting the medium that we love (no matter the format) and there’s nothing wrong with that. Read what you like, and like what you read.

Happy reading.

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